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TRAFFIC JAM

A short screenplay by Richard Seltzer

1987, 1987, 1989, 1991


                                                                                FADE IN:

INT. INSIDE CAR #1 DRIVING DOWN A HIGHWAY - DAY

IRENE and CHARLIE, a young married couple, are in the front seat of their car. CHARLIE is driving. They've been on the highway for a long time; traffic is heavy, and they are getting skittish.

CHARLIE
Driving, driving, driving -- it's all so unreal.

IRENE
What, dear?

CHARLIE
It's unreal, I tell you. We're sitting here like we're in our livingroom and things just go by.

IRENE
Just drive, dear. We'll have plenty of time to think when we get there. You know how distracted you can get. Just keep your mind on the road.

CHARLIE
But the world looks so two-dimensional and fuzzy through the windshield.

IRENE
Well, if you'd wash the windshield, Charlie.

                                                                                CUT TO:

INT. INSIDE CAR #2 ON THE SAME HIGHWAY - DAY

MARY and ED, another young married couple, are going down the same highway, with ED in the driver's seat.

MARY
Dear, where are we going?

ED
Don't you know? I thought it was your idea.

MARY
No, it was your idea. I remember distinctly. We were at breakfast. You were reading your newspaper. I was listening to the news on the radio, and Tommy had just dropped the Wheaties all over the floor.

ED
Yes, dear, but what did I say? Where did I say we were going?

MARY
Oh, I don't remember that.

                                                                                CUT TO:

EXT. TWO CARS SIDE-BY-SIDE ON THE SAME HIGHWAY - DAY

RALPH and AL, middle-aged business men, are driving side by side, each alone in a convertible.  After they've been close to one another for some time, they start talk to one another, shouting above the noise of the traffic.

RALPH
(shouts)
Man what a view.

AL
(shouts)
What view? There's nothing but cars and cars and more cars.

RALPH
(shouts)
Yeah, man, ain't it beautiful. Just look at all them cars. I've never seen so many cars in all my life.

                                                                                CUT TO:

INT. INSIDE CAR #1 - DAY

IRENE
You look tired, dear. Do you want me to take over?

CHARLIE
That's fine with me, but there's no way we can stop in all this traffic. It's unreal how much traffic there is. Where can they all be going?

                                                                                CUT TO:

INT. INSIDE CAR #2 - DAY

MARY
Where are we going, dear?

ED
I just told you I don't know.

MARY
Then why are we going there?

ED
Because we have no choice. There's no way we can stop or turn around in all this traffic.

                                                                                CUT TO:

EXT. TWO CARS SIDE-BY-SIDE ON THE SAME HIGHWAY -- DAY

Al waves and tries using signs to catch Ralph's attention and tell him to move; finally he gives up and shouts.

  AL
 (shouts)
Look, buddy, can you let me in your lane? My exit's coming up.

  RALPH
 (shouts)
Cool it, man, cool it. It's a beautiful day. Just look at all them cars. That's a Rolls over there, isn't it? That red one?

  AL
 (shouts)
Look, buddy, my exit's coming up. We're pretty jammed up as it is. The only way I'm going to get out of this...

  RALPH
 (shouts)
Like, crazy, man. I'd like to help, but this car won't slow down for anybody. She's just driving herself.

  AL
 (shouts)
God, that was my exit. Thanks, buddy. Thanks loads. Now there's no telling how long I'll be stuck on this damned highway.

          CUT TO:

INT. INSIDE CAR #1 - DAY

  CHARLIE
Is it my imagination, dear, or is the road getting wider?

  IRENE
What was that, dear?

  CHARLIE
Is it just me, or is the road getting wider? I can't see the side of the road anymore. Just cars and cars and cars.

  IRENE
And trucks. Just look at all those trucks. I'm sure it's just the trucks, dear. They obscure the road, and they take up so much space. I hate driving when there are trucks on the road.

          CUT TO:

INT. CAR #2 - DAY

  MARY
Where are we, dear?

  ED
I wish I knew. I haven't seen a sign for hours. Can't say I've seen anything but cars and highway for hours.

          CUT TO:

INT. CAR #1 - DAY

Charlie is puzzled. He taps on the gas gauge before and while talking.

  CHARLIE
Something's strange, dear. I know that something's strange. When we started, the gas was on empty. I meant to fill up before we got to the turnpike, but I forgot.

  IRENE
Oh, no, you mean we're running out of gas?

  CHARLIE
No, dear, I don't think so. But I wish we were.

  IRENE
And why would you wish that on us?

  CHARLIE
Look, we've been driving for hours on an empty tank. It doesn't make sense. It isn't natural.

          CUT TO:

INT. CAR #2 - DAY

Ed keeps looking at his feet, keeps moving his feet up and down on gas pedal, brake, and clutch. He grows increasingly frantic when the car doesn't respond.

Mary keeps looking out at traffic on all sides. She's upset too, but for a different reason. She doesn't seem to notice her husband's frantic foot motions.

  MARY
Do something, Ed! Do something! Don't just sit there like a lump and let this traffic hem us in. Here we are wherever we are, and we don't know where we're going, and we've been going for hours on end. Do something. This is insane.

  ED
Yes, dear, yes. I've been trying to change lanes for so long it's ridiculous. But that gas truck beside us slowed down when we slowed down and speeded up when we speeded up.

  MARY
Then stop. Just stop.

  ED
I tried, dear. But I didn't want to alarm you. Now when I hit the brake, but the car doesn't stop. It doesn't even slow down. I've been hitting the brake, the clutch, the accelerator; but nothing happens. Somehow we just keep going, staying even with the traffic around us.

                                                                                CUT TO:

EXT. TWO CARS SIDE-BY-SIDE ON THE SAME HIGHWAY -- DAY

Al points to his wrist.

AL
(shouts)
Hey, buddy, have you got the time?

RALPH
(shouts)
Sorry, man, but my watch stopped.

                                                                                CUT TO:

INT. CAR #1 - NIGHT

It's now dark outside, except for the headlights of cars and trucks. Charlie is spooked by the moving lights, and keeps ducking to avoid their beams.

CHARLIE
It's so dark. And those lights over there are racing at us. And these lights all around us. It's eery.

IRENE
Calm down, Charlie. Calm down. Just pull yourself together. It's night. There's a perfectly rational explanation for everything. The gas tank was probably full, and the gauge is broken. Just take it easy. Slow down, and try to pull over.

CHARLIE
But the car's driving itself. I'm not doing anything. I'm not even steering it.

Charlie drops his arms to his sides. Irene shrieks, reaches for the wheel, falls across his lap. But nothing happens -- no crash, no change of direction even. Charlie helps her up, and she settles back in her seat -- numb and helpless and frightened.

                                                                                CUT TO:

INT. CAR #2 - NIGHT

Ed's arms hang helplessly at his side. He is making no effort to control his car.

MARY: Where are we going, Ed? Where are we going?

ED: I don't know. I just don't know.

                                                                                CUT TO:

INT. CAR #1 - NIGHT

CHARLIE
It's like we were on a rocketship, and there were thousands of other rocketships just like ours, soaring through space on automatic pilot. Some computer somewhere has set us on our course and set thousands of others on exactly the same course and thousands more on the opposite course. And here we are racing through space with our headlights bright like so many stars or meteorites. We worry about where we're going and how we'll get there; but it's all probably just a light show. The object isn't to get anywhere at all. Somebody just wanted to see the lights.

                                                                                CUT TO:

EXT. TWO CARS SIDE-BY-SIDE ON THE SAME HIGHWAY -- NIGHT

Ralph, smiling, raises his arms.

RALPH
shouts)
Man, this is the life. Just look at them lights, man, just look at them lights.

                                                                                CUT TO:

INT. CAR #1 - NIGHT

Charlie gestures, suddenly animated.

CHARLIE: Look at the lights, Irene. Aren't they beautiful? Look at all the lights.

                                                                                FADE OUT:

                                        THE END


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